To tax and to please

The life cycle of a PhD is curious. It begins with an awning vision and an inspiration to make a great change to the world. That slowly whittles as time and personal crises elapse, so that closing to the end one can barely summon the enthusiasm to produce and defend a significant contribution to the field. The early days for me also were very pretentious. Far too many nights were spent in the Law Faculty ingesting classic jurisprudence works, attempting to cram a philosophical framework into an already overstretched thesis. I resolved around that time that it would be incredibly unique (yeah, cos nobody has ever thought of doing this!) to place tendentious quotes at the beginning of each chapter and so kept a document into which I would place fitting quotes that I came across. As my thinking evolved the quotes I extracted shifted from being pretentious and philosophical to anything I thought witty, poignant or even simply well expressed: from Aristotle to the Ombudsman. That bit of context explains why I now have such a mixed bag. I now place them here for all to see and get a glimpse into my weird journey as a doctoral student. Enjoy!

And please feel free to add in the comments any quotes that you like.

  • “The organisation must stop the perpetual, frenetic reorganisations driven by those wet, crew cut youngsters in the management consultancies” (Yuri Grbich, ‘After Bellinz and Ralph: A New Focus for Decision Making in the Australian Tax System’ in M Walpole and C Evans (eds)Tax Administration in the 21st Century (Prospect, 2001))
  • “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act” (Orwell)
  • “History is a race between education and catastrophe” (HG Wells)
  • “What fate lies ahead for those unfortunate taxpayers who, while swerving to miss the potholes on a narrow road through the hills, crash into the guardrail on a wet and dark night? The likelihood is that rather than have the yellow flashing lights of ‘tax assist1 greet them, they are more likely to be met by dark suited gentlemen alighting from an unmarked car, with pens poised and charge sheets opened” (Martin Crowe, ‘National Decisions’, ‘More Signposts Needed on Rocky Tax Road’, National Australia Bank Limited, November 1992, p. 19 noted in Joint Committee of Public Accounts, Report No. 326, An Assessment of Tax – A Report on an Inquiry into the Australian Taxation Office (1993), p. 225)
  • “To tax and to please, no more than to love and be wise, is not given to men” (Edmund Burke)
  • “Not being trained to umpire the debates of the economic’s profession, judges invariably decide in favor of the school of thought that coincides with their own preconceptions.” (Richard Posner, ‘Conglomerate Mergers and Antitrust Policy: An Introduction’ (1969) 44 St. John’s Law Review 529, 530)
  • “Not the least evil features of the modern tax system are the army of unproductive civil servants concerned with the assessing and collecting of taxes, the enormous volume and constantly changing detail of the chaotic and largely incomprehensible body of verbiage called the law of taxation, the incomprehensible and frequently incorrect assessments, and the utterly irrational nature of the whole topic. In the law of taxation justice has no place at all” (D M Walker, The Oxford Companion to Law (1980) 1208 taken from Tony Pagone, ‘Tax Uncertainty’ (Annual Tax Lecture, Melbourne Law School, 20 August 2009) at page 2)
  • “It is a truism that equity cannot be secured in taxation laws without complexity. Complex law involves complex forms of return for income and the complicated forms give rise to demands for simplification of the law.” (Robert Ewing, Annual report 1923–24 – 1924–25, 3 as cited in Leigh Edmonds, Working for all Australians 1910-2010: A brief history of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO, 2010) 75).
  • “[The resignation of David Heaton from the GAAR panel] was not just bad luck or an indication that the wrong person was chosen. It is the result of a failure to create a robust institution with a clear function. That in itself is the result of rushing developments, partial consultation with busy people and lack of an underlying route map about where we are going with our tax institutions.” (Judith Freedman, ‘Creating new UK institutions for tax governance and policy making: progress or confusion?’ (2013) BTR 373, 380)
  • “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” (JK Galbraith)
  • “HMRC has considerable power at its disposal, but with that power comes a responsibility to act proportionately, appropriately and fairly, and with regard for the law and its own internal procedures” Ann Abraham (PHSO, Annual Report 2008-09 (HC 2008-09, 786) 12)
  • “The pension appointed to be paid me at Michaelmas I have not received, and know not where or from whom I am to ask it… To interrupt your Lordship…with such petty difficulties is improper and unreasonable; but your knowledge of the world has long since taught you that every man’s affairs, however little, are important to himself. Every man hopes that he shall escape neglect” (Samuel Johnson, to the Earl of Bute, 3 November 1762)
  • “Something important is being said about democracy when the only legislative chamber to perform the functions that people expect – deliberation, revision, improvement – contained not a single elected politician” (Hugo Young, Guardian, 18 December 2001)
  • “There is no strong constituency that opposes complexity and, above all, no constituency that is galvanised by simplicity.” (Joel B. Slemrod, “The Simplification Potential of Alternatives to Income Tax”, Tax Notes Today, March 1, 1995.)
  • ‘There is no such thing as a good tax, there is no such thing as a good tax story’ (Winston Churchill)
  • “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results” (Winston Churchill) [disputed source]
  • “Letting in the light is the best way of keeping those responsible for exercising the judicial power of the State up to the mark and for maintaining public confidence.” (Lord Toulson in Kennedy v Charity Commission [2014] UKSC 20; [2015] AC 455, [110])
  • “As with most instances of judging by catch-phrase, the law evolves in three stages: (1) An extreme case arises to which a court responds. (2) The language of the response is then applied -often mechanically, sometimes cleverly- to expand the application. With too few judges experienced enough with the subject to resist, the doctrine expands to the limits of its language, with little regard to policy. (3) Such expansions ultimately become ridiculous, and the process of cutting back begins“ (Philip Areeda, ‘Essential Facilities: An Epithet in Need of Limiting Principles’ (1989) 58 Antitrust Law Journal 841, 841)
  • “to lay down a law about things that are subjects for deliberation is an impossibility. Therefore men do not deny that it must be for a human being to determine such matters” (Aristotle, Politics, III.xi.8 as cited in Andrew Halpin, ‘The Theoretical Controversy concerning Judicial Review’ (2001) 64(3) MLR 500, 511 fn 21)
  • “Few discoveries are more irritating than those which expose the pedigree of ideas” (Lord Acton)
  • “With us, every official, from the Prime Minister down to a constable or a collector of taxes, is under the same responsibility for every act done without legal justification as any other citizen” (AV Dicey, Law of the Constitution (10th edn., 1959), 193)
  • “Human nature, at its best as well as at its worst, has to be protected against itself, and where power is concerned the very existence of the possibility of restraint is a safeguard against that gradual degeneration – so easy, so insidious, often so imperceptible – by which the end justifies the means and the good in intent becomes the evil in effect. That, at all events, is the whole core of the theory of the balance of powers in our constitution” (Carleton Kemp Allen, Law and Orders (3rd edn., Stevens & Sons 1965), 297)
  • “In this regards, my friend, you’re like the public, to whom one should never offer a delicate perfume. It exasperates them. Give them only carefully selected garbage” (Charles Baudelaire, Translated by William H. Crosby, The Flowers of Evil & Paris Spleen, BOA Editions, Ltd., 1991)
  • “[M]an in our times has a need to preserve his identity, to refuse the total transparency of society, to maintain the privacy of his personality” (Judge Pettiti in Malone v UK (1985) 7 E.H.R.R. 14, 55)
  • “But if taxation is the scourge of the twentieth century – the civilized evil as it were – we must learn to live with it.” (JRL Anderson in the Foreword to Basil Sabine, A History of Income Tax (1st edn., George Allen & Unwin, 1966), 5)
  • “So the thing be understood, I am indifferent as to the name” (John Locke)
  • “Nothing so undermines your financial judgment as the sight of your neighbour getting rich.” (JP Morgan)
  • “Should government refrain from regulation (taxation), the worthlessness of the money becomes apparent and the fraud can no longer be concealed” (John Maynard Keynes)
  • “For all its untold blessings, the harnessing of atomic energy may lead to the destruction of man’s physical world; so perfecting the instrument of income tax may destroy the structure of human society. For many God has been all-but argued out of existence, and mammon taxed out of existence: in a world without God or mammon, what is left?” (JRL Anderson in the Foreword to Basil Sabine, A History of Income Tax (1st edn., George Allen & Unwin, 1966), 5)
  • “One man’s evasion is another man’s increased taxation” (Harold Wilson)
  • “It was Benjamin Franklin who said that there were two certain things in this world, death and taxes. If there is anything this brief summary of fiscal history in the last 60 years illustrates, it is that, in fact, there is nothing certain about taxes, either in incidence or effect” (Basil Sabine, ‘Life and taxes 1932-1992. Part 3: 1965-1992: Reform, Rossminster and reductions’ (1993) BTR 504, 516)

*** Added 16 April 2016. A cracking link here (h/t David S. Lesperance) with a host of excellent tax quotes.

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About taxatlincolnox

Tax PhD candidate, College Lecturer and Tutor at Oxford University; Researcher at King's College London and Social Sciences Tutor with the Brilliant Club. With this blog, I seek merely to contribute to the debate. All thoughts are mine, of course.
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